On and on we go...
The Good Doctor and I finally turned the corner and headed back south down the east side of Seneca Lake toward Watkins Glen. Our first official rest stop came at a winery parking lot just south of Geneva. I decided to forgo any wine tasting since I couldn't think of a good vintage to compliment Clif Bars. Would that be a white or a red? Instead of a fine Finger Lakes pressing, I stuck with a couple of PBJs and a reload of my Gatorade bottles. Doc had to take on more chamois butter as his saddle-burns were smoldering pretty good by now but other than that, things were progressing remarkably well. The rain was mostly holding off except for a few sprinkles so our biggest obstacles were the hills and the stiff south wind. A little rest and recharge and we're back on the road.
I finally did make cell contact with the 65 milers over on the other side of the lake. The conversation was still terse but at least conveyed information. By now, a couple of them had surrendered to the SAG truck after a heroic effort and Chris had broken two spokes on her drive wheel. It was pouring rain on their side of the lake but they were still going. The detour that we took led them on a merry chase to nowhere except a dirt road down to a rest stop and a double-back to head south. It added about 12 wet miles to the 35 or so they'd already done. It sounded like they were getting pounded on all sides but by all accounts, they hadn't given up. I looked across at the very dark sky to the west, shook my head and dropped into the bars to cut the wind for Doc. There wasn't much we could do for the time being except keep pushing.
A couple of stiff climbs got us back up on the ridge-tops and cruising but suddenly Doc disappeared off my back wheel where he'd been a fixture for some few miles. I'm used to him doing that. Sometimes he just drops out of my draft and is gone before I realize it. He gets a little behind but just hammers along until he catches back up or I take a mini-pause. I never worry because I know he'll be along eventually. The guy is so damn strong that you can watch his chainstays and derailleurs flex from the strain when he pedals so I'm rarely too concerned. This time though, he was nowhere in sight and my pause got a little bit long to be normal. I did a quick loop, backtracked and found him along the shoulder looking disgustedly at his own rear wheel now also newly equipped with two broken spokes. What is it with broken spokes? Could it be that the high altitude bunny-hops over railroad tracks and potholes that Doc specializes in finally had an effect? He got about a foot of air over a couple of them and the landings were an audible crash so that does have potential I guess. I made a mental note to remind him sometime that street bikes don't have long-travel suspension like the mountain varieties. A quick inspection and the verdict was an unrideable bent rim necessitating a call to the SAG wagon. Fortunately, we were near one of the Ham radio operators stationed around the course so a call went out for the mobile wrench to swing by and make repairs. ETA for the bike medic was about 30 minutes so the idea was that I would keep going while Doc waited for the fix and then he'd catch a ride with the truck to catch up. Looked good on paper.
Now solo, I took off for the next R&R about 15 miles ahead. Another vertical climb up out of the lake valley pretty much tapped out the legs for a while so I put in at a fire station/bonk stop to refuel and stretch out a couple of fairly serious kinks. Still no sign of the Big Man so one last fill of the bottles, another Clif or two, out the driveway and back into the wind on the last leg for home plate. Turns out that all that climbing had some benefit because it was pretty much downhill all the way into Watkins. Lucky for me because my uphill muscles were really singing by this stage. Head down over the bars and rolling, the last downhill finally came in sight with 'Zoom Zoom' chalked on the turn marker. One last swoop and suddenly, there's the park and the finish line. Seven hours almost to the minute after we rolled out at the back of the pack, I clicked out of the pedals and put my foot down on the longest ride of my life.
And that is how we do that.
I checked in at the gate so they didn't go out looking for my number at the end of the day and picked up my goodie bag from the Tour staff. Gary and Mark were still hanging around so we sat and rehashed adventures until Connor and Angie showed up after their shuttle back in the SAG van. That left five of the team still out on the course so calls started going out to see who was where. No answer on all cells. This made more sense when Angie mentioned that she had a pocket full of cell phones she'd been handed to keep them out of the deluge. She was ringing like a switchboard but it really didn't help us figure out what was going on.
About this time, here comes Doc limping in. Still missing whole spokes, back wheel still wobbling but at least true enough to use the brakes.
The tech was able to get his wheel straightened enough for the brakes to work and just enough to gently ride it home if Doc promised to go easy. If he didn't baby that much-misused rim, he'd be done for good and all. In true Doc form, he refused a catch-up lift in the truck and just got back on the saddle. I heard later that there was quite a lot of radio chatter among the support guys about the crazy man riding in on a bent wheel and a certain amount of concern among them that the thing would fall apart on that last fast downhill. He did manage to control his usual hell-bent instincts and keep it under 50 and so NS rider number six came in under his own steam.
And that leaves four.
By now, it was after 3 o'clock and all the rest of the field was in and accounted for. The course officially closed at 4 and anyone still out there was required to be swept in by the SAG van. I sort of knew that would never fly with our troops so Doc and I decided to head out backwards on the 65 mile loop in hopes of finding them and riding shotgun to get them in. Besides, we'd promised ourselves and everyone else in earshot for a month that we were going to do 100 miles but even with the detour, we still only had a little over 90. That would never do so back on the cranks and out the gate again. Even Gary and Mark got in the spirit of the thing and volunteered to go along. Mind you, these guys are real shiny at this bicycle madness and had very little saddle-time to work with. They did the 10 mile loop so this promised to almost double their mileage for the day. The first stretch on the reverse is all a steady, solid climb and I had some serious doubts. Once again though, the team showed what they were made of as those two dug in and slogged that hill. They just chewed away at it until somewhere near the top, Doc and I finally pulled away to extend the search and rescue a few more miles. For two guys who had already ridden a personal record day, that was a pretty impressive feat.
But we still had only open road and cars as far as we could see. No NS jerseys in sight.
I knew we couldn't have missed them so I stopped to have one more go at the only cell phone I knew they still had. No answer but Doc rode on while I was messing with it. He'd only gone a little ways when lo and behold, around the next curve and over the crest of a hill comes our long-lost compadres. Still banging along; tired, sweaty, damp and dead last but still refusing to surrender. Following the tiny pack was a bright red VW bug with a flashing yellow beacon light on the roof. The last support vehicle with the faithful Karen at the wheel. Karen had pretty much adopted them and even when they were supposed to get swept, she refused to bring them in and refused to hand them off to anyone else. She said she didn't care when the course closed. If these guys wanted to make it in, she'd stay with them 'till dark if she had to. End of discussion. She was the best of the best for our team.
With the lost now found, Doc and I fell in to ride back down the hill into town. When we dropped over the top and started coasting along, all the tired disappeared and all the sore went away. We caught Gary and Mark right at the first stop light in Watkins Glen and now 8 of the 10 were riding together. The traffic was heavy and we sat in a left-turn lane waiting for the light to cycle a couple of times, getting nowhere. Finally, the light went green again and out of the blue, Gary just rolled into the oncoming lane and stuck out his hand like a state trooper. The first car in line could either run him down or stop and I guess it was the Chief's lucky day because the driver decided not to smash him flat. With the line of cars held up, we made the turn and rode right in the lane down the last few blocks to the park. I can't think of too many times I've been as proud of a bunch of people as I was of those nine. Our final four led us in and across the finish to cowbells and applause from the crowd. What a way to end the day!
We grabbed Karen out of her bug and dragged her into our team pictures along with Jessica, the Tour Co-ordinator. A bunch of sweaty and dirty bike riders in the photos but all smiling and all pretty proud of ourselves. Not a bad showing for a pack of amateurs if I do say so myself.
Stay tuned for Part 3 when I have a few minutes to tap it in.